Germany and Its Evolution in Modern Times

By Henri Lichtenberger; A. M. Ludovici | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE VALUE OF ART

I

AT the same time as the anti-rationalist reaction which set in towards the end of the eighteenth century gradually gave religious sentiment the precedence of theoretical reason, it also tended to place art at the head of the tables of values.

The era of enlightenment had but a mediocre comprehension of the nature of art. Absolutely persuaded of the sovereign power of reason, it saw in art, not an end in itself, but merely a convenient instrument for communicating to the multitude certain philosophical or moral truths in an agreeable form. And, moreover, it formed a mechanical and, as a rule, somewhat primitive conception of artistic creations. It compared the poet, the painter or the musician to clever craftsmen who fashion more or less successful articles according to whether or not they have imitated good models and used the best means prescribed by their craft. Hence the presumptuous indiscretion with which the critic allowed himself to domineer over the artist, to formulate theoretical rules for the creation of masterpieces, and to judge whether the works were beautiful or not--that is to say, whether they were in conformity with these rules.

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